I approached Tonsai Beach on a colorful longtail boat. This was the only way to reach the famous climbing paradise in Thailand. The turquoise blue sea sloshed noisily under the long boat. Only the sound of the boat engine destroyed the idyll as we approached the empty beach. I had heard many tonsai stories: incomparable climbing in a breathtaking atmosphere surrounded by jungle. No cars. No traffic noise. It was secluded, like an island without being one. I met very few people on the initially paved road. It was low season, rainy season. The main season is in December and January. Now it is quieter. The place involuntarily reminds me of a pirate’s nest in the Caribbean. Colorfully painted wooden building hidden in an inaccessible bay characterize the style of living on Tonsai. Low and high tides determine everyday life and climbing. In the evening one can go to one of the countless bars, play billiards, train on the slackline or enjoy the evening fire show. Tonsai is not a hectic place. The clock is ticking slower and the nights can be very long.
The neighbouring Railey Beach, which could only be reached at low tide over the beach or via a longer path through the jungle, everything was more orderly and organized. Fancy hotels and beach bungalows have gained a foothold. Tonsai was the opposite of that. There was an anarchic mood, but the locals were still in charge. There is no police in Tonsai. If a tourist tries to rip off the locals, he must face the consequences. At best, it ends with a broken nose and a black eye.
Tonsai and the Railey Beach offer an infinite number of sport climbing routes and multi-pitch in all levels of difficulty. The ascents were relatively short but the accessibility partly also depend on the tides of the sea. The climbing community present was small. It was easy to find someone to climb with as many climbers traveled alone. However, my climbing expectations collided with the reality on site. In Advance I had decided for a workaway project to save money on accommodation and food. The shift work at the reception and the rainy season thwarted my intensive climbing plans. It was raining not only once on my days off, so I had to throw overboard all my plans for multi-pitch. While I worked at the reception in the mornings or afternoons, the high limestone cliffs lured with sea views. It was partly torture. The weather was moody with the most beautiful sunshine or extensive rain showers. I quickly threw away the illusion of the perfect combination of work and climbing. If you are in Tonsai and want to climb, you should not impose such chains.
Tonsai is a meeting place – with people and nature. On the one hand, it is a retreat to pause, a place of discovery and a place to connect. Separated from the outside world, the bay has become a place of creativity. The long wall that now cuts through Tonsai has become the canvas of all the creative minds that lingered in Tonsai. It is a place of connection, in which deep, moving relationships develop, which are based on open conversations, trust and honesty and the touch the heart. The surrounding nature and remoteness contribute significantly to these developments and experiences and bear the positive vibe of this place. With all of this, however, one should not ignore the downsides. The bay is also a place of self-centeredness, in which lessons around self-centeredness are constantly presented, in which the connections between people are unstable, in which broadcasters dominate conversations and the receivers are left with a feeling of emptiness and meaninglessness. The seclusion of the bay is intensifying disappointing experiences.
Tonsai acts like an amplifier. It arouses desires and longings. It flirts with people’s desire for a little anarchy and even more freedom. It is often overlooked that money rules this beach as much as elsewhere. The pirate flair is a pleasing facade for the hard business of the locals, who have created a prosperous business out of necessity and have built a future for themselves and their families. Visitors should treat this with respect and consideration.